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Percy Schmeiser vs Monsanto: The Story of a Canadian Farmer's Fight to Defend the Rights of Farmers and the Future of Seeds

Gathered here in Bonn this week are some eighty Right Livelihood Award laureates, including the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has battled the biotech giant Monsanto for years. When Monsanto seeds blew into Schmeiser's property, Monsanto accused him of illegally planting their crops and took him to court. Ultimately his case landed in the Canadian Supreme Court. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1997 for fighting to defend the rights of farmers and the future of seeds.

AMY GOODMAN: We're broadcasting from Bonn, Germany, where the thirtieth anniversary of the Right Livelihood Awards is being held. The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 and has become widely known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. Gathered here in Bonn this week are some eighty Right Livelihood Award laureates, including the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who has battled the biotech company Monsanto for years. In 1997, Percy and his wife Louise won the Right Livelihood Award for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers' rights. I spoke with Percy Schmeiser yesterday in Bonn, but first I want to turn to Bertram Verhaag's documentary Percy Schmeiser: David versus Monsanto.

NARRATOR: The pesticide Roundup produced by the multinational concern Monsanto is the most widely sold spray in the world. Monsanto made its canola resistant to Roundup. This means Roundup kills every plant without exception. Only Monsanto's genetically modified canola remains alive.

PERCY SCHMEISER: It was introduced without really much testing being done. And I think, even at that time, when it was introduced in the middle of the '90s, that even the governments were taken in by what these corporations told what it would do, like increase yields and less chemicals and more nutritious. And I think the governments even believed the corporation.

NARRATOR: In 1996, the chemical giant Monsanto introduced its brand of canola into Canada, a brand resistant to the pesticide Roundup. In Schmeiser's region, three farmers agreed to plant Monsanto's new GMO canola. Due to a heavy storm during the harvest, freshly cut GMO canola drifted into Percy Schmeiser's fields. His work of fifty years of breeding was destroyed, because his harvest was contaminated by Monsanto's seed.

PERCY SCHMEISER: It came like a-like a time bomb, like a shock to me, that my seed was ruined through cross-pollination or direct seed drift by a substance, by a seed I didn't want in my land. And so, it was very disgusting and hard to take that I had lost something that I worked fifty years on.

NARRATOR: Contamination and destruction of his own breed was irrevocably damaging to Percy Schmeiser. But on top of that, Monsanto turned him, the victim, into a culprit.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from the documentary Percy Schmeiser: David versus Monsanto.

Well, I met Percy Schmeiser yesterday here in Bonn and asked him to talk about this epic struggle he has with the biotech giant Monsanto. It's one of the largest biotech companies in the world.

PERCY SCHMEISER: It started in 1998, when Monsanto laid what they call a patent infringement lawsuit against my wife and myself, and they charged us that we were growing their genetic altered, or GMO, canola, as we call it in Canada. And that was the beginning of it. And as GMOs were introduced in North America in 1996, so this was two years after the introduction.